Bring your dog to Montrose Beach.
Chicago's beaches have come a long way since first opening for public bathing purposes in the late 1800s. The water, despite popular belief, is as clean as can be (Chicago actually boasts the cleanest urban waterfront in the entire country, even with the occasional e.coli outbreak), access is totally free and the crowds are more diverse than ever. Though we do think that most of the restrooms could stand some serious tending to. In the spirit of sun-worshipping and heated volleyball tournaments, we've rounded up a few of our favorite Chicago beaches, from north to south.
Bring on the barbecue at Foster Avenue Beach
You know the day is in your favor when you nab a free parking spot at this lush North Side beach. Arrive early enough and you'll have a good chance of sparking that lucky streak. From there, you can hike it over to the spacious shoreline—where posing and parading are a refreshing rarity—and scoop up the perfect sunbathing spot. Show up on a weekday and revel in the peace and quiet with a good book or cool off in the lake. Just try not to work up too much of an appetite while you're here, as the concession stand is outrageously overpriced. Of course, you could always saunter a few blocks west to Dominick's (on the corner of Foster & Sheridan) and host a barbecue on one of the beach's public grills.
Play with your pooch at Montrose Beach
Montrose Beach is a favorite of ours for several reasons, including its easy access from the Montrose bus, beach volleyball and the allowance of non-motorized watercraft (read: kayaks and catamarans). But what really makes this a standout is the fenced-off area for Fido. In fact, out of the Chicago Park District's 29 beaches, Montrose is one of just two to boast a dog-friendly area, where our furry pals can romp around without the regular restraint of their leashes.
Take the tykes to Kathy Osterman Beach
More commonly referred to as Hollywood Beach by locals, this crescent-shaped spot, located at the 5800 North block where Lakeshore Drive ends, is divided into two sandy sections. On the northernmost end of the beach, where the waters skirt the shallow side, you'll find plenty of frolicking families. Head over to the southern side and you'll be greeted by cliques of gorgeous gays, as this is where most of the Boystown crowd comes to grab some rays and, hopefully, a few numbers. Not only do we love the diversity of this North Side staple, but its nearby access to the Bryn Mawr and Thorndale Red Line stations are a major plus. You'll also find a number of volleyball courts, which are often in full swing with organized matches.
Swim in style at North Avenue Beach
Head a bit further south to the popular North Avenue Beach and the first things you'll notice are herds of hard bodies and stiletto-clad style fiends. This is one of the best beaches for people-watching, and the people here definitely don't mind being watched. But it isn't all about seeing and being seen on this scalloped shoreline; plenty of families also come here to relax and soak up North Avenue's spectacular skyline views. Whether it's a workday or a weekend, you can bet this beach will be busy, but that also makes it one of the safer spots for swimming thanks to the city's largest lifeguard staff on duty. Additionally, you'll find Chicago's most developed beach house, along with plenty of summer-inspired bites and beverages.
Get your game on at Oak Street Beach
The view from the patio at Oak Street Beachstro
Thanks to its close proximity to the loop, Oak Street Beach draws in plenty of posh patrons, making it the one beach in Chicago where you can park it under an imported palm tree. The haute vibe here may not be ideal for relaxation, but it does make the beach a perfect place to let loose with a beverage, or five. Competition on this turf runs thick, from fierce volleyball matches to perfectly toned and tanned bodies scattered along the 1.5-mile shoreline, so be sure to sport your game face along with your sauciest swimwear. And hey, if chiseled abs and perfect pecs aren't your strong suit, you can always hike it over to the beach's chess pavilion, grab a fine meal at the Oak Street Beachstro
, or get lost in Chicago's largest area of deep-water swimming.
Dive deep at 12th Street Beach
Wedged between the Adler Planetarium and Northerly Island (formerly Meigs Field), this South Side beach draws in patrons from all over the city. It's a favorite with serious swimmers, who can safely dive into deeper waters, located just east of the beach. And thanks to its distance from the downtown area, 12th Street Beach is more focused on family-friendly activities and laid-back crowds than it is pretentious partygoers and scantily clad cliques.
Max and relax at 57th Street Beach
Sitting in the Hyde Park neighborhood, this spot remains one of the calmer, quieter places to soak up some rays. You'll also notice that it's home to one of Chicago's cleaner shorelines and an attentive crew of lifeguards. 57th Street Beach is an ideal getaway for families and couples seeking an escape, as well as a great place to unwind with a picnic after spending a day at the nearby Museum of Science and Industry.